The L Word: Loyalty

Many call centers are entrepreneurial ventures whose success and continued growth is largely attributed to the grit and perseverance of the founder, the entrepreneur. As a professor at the University of Wyoming, I have talked about entrepreneurship with thousands of students. As a founder of three successful ventures, it has been easy for me to combine the academic theory with the practical reality of founding and running a business. For in the end, I am an entrepreneur who is a professor, not vice versa!

I think it would be helpful for contact center managers who work for entrepreneurs to have a solid grasp of the genuine nature of the entrepreneur himself. If you can comprehend him just a little bit (it is impossible to fully understand the Byzantine complexity of a bona-fide entrepreneur) you have a chance at career survival and precious life serenity.

Unforgivable Disloyalty

So, I am going to devote a few columns to this subject. I am often asked, "What does the entrepreneur want from me? I just can’t seem to please him!" There is an easy answer to this. LOYALTY! Without this distinguishing quality, any associate of the entrepreneur is doomed to execution. To the entrepreneur, all else can be pardoned, but disloyalty (whether real or imagined) cannot be forgiven. Never!

To confirm my suspicions about this subject, I asked several of my entrepreneurial colleagues, "What is the most important characteristic all your employees must have?" I was surprised by the immediate and intense response. It was always a variation of the following, "They must either be 100 percent with me or they are against me." In other words, clear and unquestionable loyalty. As the author Elbert Hubbard once wrote, "An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness."

If you work for an entrepreneur, it is essential to your survival and peace of mind that you understand this concept. Entrepreneurs are clearly a different breed. They are surprisingly tolerant and forgiving people. They have made many errors in building their business and understand that all people are flawed and will make mistakes themselves. The great film entrepreneur Samuel Goldwyn nailed it when it said, "I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty." To the entrepreneur, disloyalty is the mortal sin and can never be forgiven.

An Entrepreneur’s Expectations

As a group, entrepreneurs are very loyal people. They are inordinately loyal to friends, suppliers, investors, and especially so to employees. The dilemma is they expect the same level of unquestionable loyalty from others who do not view the world from the same perspective as the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are in total agreement with the philosopher Josiah Royce who said, "Loyalty is the supreme moral good, and one’s devotion to an object matters more than the merits of the object itself."

Entrepreneurs and employees frequently do not have the same understanding about what constitutes loyalty. What is considered a perfectly normal behavior or reaction on the part of an employee may well be perceived as disloyal by an entrepreneur. Therein lies the problem, entrepreneurs are different from most people and they view the world from a unique perspective. How they interpret things is the issue and to them perception is reality. When dealing with the concept of loyalty, an employee needs to understand that while the entrepreneur’s viewpoint may not be rational or defendable, it is reality to them. Failure to comprehend this phenomenon will inevitably have a disastrous ending for the employee.

To understand what is considered to be loyalty by an entrepreneur, it is useful to recognize what he would consider to be disloyal. Examples of major disloyalty would be stealing company secrets, giving information to competitors and openly "bad mouthing" the entrepreneur or his company. I think any employee would agree with this definition of disloyalty and would have no problem in dealing with the consequences. However to an entrepreneur, loyalty is a much deeper and more subtle concept.

Level of Commitment

Employees be reminded, entrepreneurs feel they have risked and sacrificed everything to build an enterprise which employs people. They are proud they have created jobs and good lives for their employees. The entrepreneur has given "his all" and does not fully understand why an employee would not do the same. A disloyal employee could be viewed as someone who does not exhibit these same values and level of commitment. For example, an employee exhibits an attitude (real or imagined) of "this is just a job to me" will be perceived as disloyal by the entrepreneur. He would think, "what do you mean, this is just a job? This has to be more than a job, this is my life, why isn’t it your life?"

This reaction is very puzzling to an employee who doesn’t understand the full level commitment that the entrepreneur thinks he has made. They believe that a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay is all that is required. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, feel like they have devoted every ounce of energy to the venture and all employees should do likewise.

To the entrepreneur, disloyalty can be as subtle as consistently taking extra long lunch breaks, leaving work early, or not working on weekends, etc. These behaviors may not be disloyal, but to the entrepreneur they could be indications that the employee does not posses a high level of dedication to the business. Lack of total and unquestioned dedication (real or imagined) to "the cause," is always disloyalty to the entrepreneur.

The Difference Between Dissent and Disloyalty

Readers, be clear on this point, entrepreneurs can clearly distinguish the difference between dissent and disloyalty. Believe it or not, they don’t respect "yes men" and value the divergent ideas and opinions of others they work with.

However, once a decision is made, they do expect everyone to fully support the choice. To second guess, subvert, or feign a real contribution, is disloyalty!

To survive working for an entrepreneur, as difficult as it may be, employees should always be aware of the loyalty phenomenon and try to understand it from the viewpoint of the entrepreneur. They should never let themselves get into a test of wills with the entrepreneur. Anyone who would try to impose their will over an entrepreneur would be considered disloyal. For example, putting an entrepreneur into a position of no retreat with an ultimatum (entrepreneurs especially abhor ultimatums) will always considered to be a disloyal act.

Neither the employee nor the entrepreneur is right or wrong on the issue of loyalty. But, in the end, the genuine entrepreneur has made a one hundred percent commitment to the venture and he feels totally responsible for its success. The buck stops with him. To thrive in the entrepreneurial environment, all employees need to fully comprehend the sage comment of Henry Kissinger when referring to his boss, Richard Nixon. He said, "In the end, we are all the President’s men."

First published on Customer Management IQ